8 Green Ideas Revolutionizing Fashion Manufacturing

Fashion Breakthroughs Photo

Photos: AirDye, Tristar.

We're all familiar with green fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo and hemp, but which new materials and practices are moving fashion forward to a greener, brighter future? Here are eight processes and fabrics paving the way.

1. Dying with Air, or How to Save Water in the Coloring Process

Costello Tagliapietra Spring 2010 Collection, Colored with AirDye Photo

Costello Tagliapietra Spring 2010 Collection, Colored with AirDye. Credit: AirDye.

The dying and finishing of fabrics represent the biggest impact of textile industry in the environment. About 85% of the water, 75% of the energy and 65% of chemicals used in textile production is used in dying and finishing. This is why greening this part of the process is so important.

During the dying process, water is used to apply color, but also to push the fabrics through machines. New machines by companies like Fongs are using air to push the fabrics, thus reducing the amount of water used. With this method, the dying of a t-shirt can go from requiring 200 to using only 50 liters of water (Textile World).

Another, more eco sound, alternative is a system called AirDye, which works with proprietary dyes that are heat-transferred from paper to fabric in a one-step process. This can save between seven and 75 gallons of water in the dying of a pound of fabric, save energy, and produces no harmful by-products.

It was developed in California by Colorep.

2. Digital Printing

Basso and Brooke, Pioneering Firm in using Digital Printing Photo© MyFashionLife

Basso and Brooke, pioneer designers in the use of digital printing. Credit: MyFashionLife.

Another technology that's moving forward in this direction is digital printing -- a process in which prints are directly applied to fabrics with printers, reducing 95% the use of water, 75% the use of energy, and reducing fabrics waste. This technique has been used by designers like Mary Katrantzou, Alexander McQueen and Basso & Brooke.

Companies that produce machines and inks include Japanese-based Itochu Corp and Huntsman, but fabrics that produce digital print fabrics can be easily found online.

3. Recycled PET Bottles

Zegna Ecotech Solar Jacket Photo

Zegna's Ecotech Solar Jacket. Credit: Zegna.

Perhaps one of the materials that has grown the most in the past years is recycled polyester from PET, which went from a groundbreaking experiment by Patagonia outwear in the mid-'90s to a regular material these days.

Fabrics with some percentage of recycled PET can be found in many labels today, and recently the material stepped up to enter the high-end fashion world with the Ecotech Zegna solar jacket.

Even if these fabrics are non-biodegradable, their production uses less crude than the manufacturing of new polyester and keeps plastic bottles from landfills.

4. Cork

Manolo Blahnik Cork Ballerina Photo

Manolo Blahnik's cork ballerina, from Spring 2010 collection. Credit: Bergdorf Goodman.

It's certainly not a new, groundbreaking material, but its presence in fashion has been intensifying over the past years. The reason? With wine industry turning to plastic and screw caps, environmental and business groups have been pushing for the use of this material in other areas to protect Portugal's cork forests (if they're not profitable anymore, they won't survive much).

And with leather becoming a less popular material among environmentalists, cork's versatility and leather-like use is blooming.

Did we mention it's impermeable, fire-resistant, easily cleaned and long lasting and dust and dirt repellent?

Next: More Recycled Fabrics, Wash Free Clothes, New Materials and the Most Sustainable Fabric EverPage 2

Related Content on Treehugger.com